WASHINGTON, June 27, 2014 – The Obama Administration claimed a victory in announcing that the status of the American wood stork, a bird scientists thought would be extinct by the year 2000, has been upgraded to “endangered.”
The bird has been on the endangered list for 30 years. The American wood stork nests in swamps and coastal marshes from the Carolinas down to Florida.
“It’s a day for good news about an iconic bird from the Southeast that is doing a great job of recovering,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said, though she cautioned, “There’s still important work to do before we can propose to remove it from the list altogether.”
The step up to endangered is due to the fact that the wood stork has expanded its territory from its original nesting areas in southern Florida to include the eastern seaboard to Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Nearly four feet tall with a wingspan of about five feet, the wood stork is the only stork species that nests in the U.S. There are presently as many as 9,000 breeding adults, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“One reason we’re able to change their status is that the risk has been reduced because their numbers are more spread out,” said Billy Brooks, the Fish and Wildlife biologist in charge of the wood stork recovery program. “They have improved their productivity by expanding their breeding range.”
Not everyone is please over the reclassification. Brad Cornell, an Audubon Society policy advocate says there are concerns that the bird is still struggling in areas of the Everglades where they once thrived, and that there is a lack of regulatory protection for those wetlands.
“We believe the Fish and Wildlife Service is really premature in any reclassification,” Cornell said. “There are too many gaps in the vital science on wood storks and a lack of long-term habitat protections to sustain its recovery.”
Of concern are groups that may wish to encroach on the birds’ habitat. The Florida Homebuilders Association and the Pacific Legal Foundation, an advocate for private property rights, have been pressing for the stork’s status to be changed since 2007.
Concerns are that once the birds are no longer protected, their habitat will be in danger of encroachment by builders.
Ongoing survival of the species depends on its ability to nest in wetlands with an abundance of fish and trees, surrounded by water to protect eggs from predators.